5-Minute House Fire Evacuation Checklist: a Detailed Action Plan

When a building is on fire, it is extremely difficult to assess the level of threat and improvise a logical plan of action. Knowing what to do and which mistakes to avoid in such an extreme situation is the key to safety.

Read this fire evacuation checklist to understand how to escape when every minute counts. 

Reasons for House Fires

Fire department worker extinguishing the flames

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the most common causes of house fires are:

  • Cooking
  • Heating
  • Electrical
  • Smoking
  • Candles

A rapidly developing fire in a residential building is possible only if flammable liquids or materials have caught flame or a gas explosion has occurred. In all other cases, the fire spreads slower. 

How to Detect a House Fire On Time?

As a rule, before the appearance of a flame, there is a period of prolonged heating or smoldering of solid combustible materials, such as household items and furniture.

Residents should pay attention to the following signs of an incipient fire:

  • The smell of an overheated substance
  • The appearance of smoke
  • The smell of rubber (this indicates the overheating of the electrical wires)
  • Interruptions in the operation of light bulbs and appliances
  • The crackling sound of burning objects.

The spread of a fire is indicated by whistling or buzzing sounds, lights produced by a flame, and an intensifying smell of soot.

The sooner a house fire is detected, the faster the fire brigade will arrive and the lower the risk of damage.

Fire Evacuation Procedure: Action Plan

The actions in the event of a fire largely depend on the place where it is detected (apartment, office, private house, etc.) and the factors affecting its spread. In any case, in order not to get lost in a critical situation, you need to understand the general algorithm of actions clearly. 

This fire evacuation list describes how to escape the flames in a matter of minutes:

1. Don’t Ignore a Fire Alarm

Fire alarm device

In most cases, a fire starts with overheating, smoldering, and the appearance of smoke that triggers a fire alarm. 

In such a situation, if the flame was noticed at its incipient stage, the rules of conduct will help to cope with the fire on your own with the fire extinguishing means available. 

The most important factor here is not to ignore fire safety rules and manage to prevent the fire from spreading.

2. Use a Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguisher attached to a column

There are three most common types of fire extinguishers:

  • Air pressurized water
  • CO2 (carbon dioxide)
  • Dry chemical (powder)

Powder fire extinguishers are among the emergency essentials recommended for domestic use. They smother the fire and subdue its source by spraying a chemical-based powder.

To use most fire extinguishers, you should follow the P.A.S.S. principle:

  • Pull the pin - it will break the tamper seal.
  • Aim low, pointing the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  • Sweep from side to side until the fire appears to be out. 

In case your house is equipped with a CO2 extinguisher, remember not to touch the plastic discharge horn, as it gets extremely cold and can cause severe damage to your skin.

Never use water to extinguish electrical fire and the one caused by flammable liquids due to the risk of faster spread and injuries. 

If you are unsure whether you can fight the fire or if it seems to be too big, evacuate the building without delay!

3. Inform Others

While the smoke alarms are going off, it is still useful to inform other members of the household about the emergency.

Shout out loud to notify people around you that the danger is real, and everyone needs to act fast and avoid panic.

4. Dial 911

911 operator receiving a call

Head out towards the exit if the path is clear while calling the fire department. If you don’t have a phone at hand, don’t stop and search for it, as you could get caught up in flames. 

Hurry to get out, and upon exiting, ask people around you to help you call the emergency number 911.

5. Moving to Safety

As you proceed towards the exit, it is best to follow these safety tips:

  • Keep your nose covered with a shirt or a damp towel to prevent smoke from entering your lungs.
  • Crawl and stay close to the ground to avoid thick smoke and high temperatures.
  • If possible, close doors along the way to provide extra blockage for the spread of fire.
  • Never delay your escape from a burning house by searching for valuables.

If your clothes catch fire, remember the simple rule: Stop, Drop, and Roll. Rolling over your back helps extinguish the fire - trying to run can facilitate its spread.

Do not use elevators! The fire spreads through the ventilation and elevator shafts at a tremendous speed. Opt for emergency exits whenever possible.

6. Stay Out

Once you exit the building, don’t re-enter it. Notify the fire department officers as soon as possible if you think people or animals are still inside, and let them know if you have an idea in which part of the house they could be.

Fire Safety Precautions

In order to prevent fires in housing:

  • Never smoke inside.
  • Don’t leave electrical appliances unattended when switched on.
  • Monitor the electrical wiring, do not overload the power grid.
  • Do not cover light bulbs and heaters with paper or cloth.
  • Avoid blocking balconies, as well as emergency exits and stairs with furniture, equipment, and other flammable materials.
  • Do not store flammable materials in the basement unless its entrance is isolated from common stairwells.
  • Instruct children on fire safety and don’t leave them unattended.
  • At the slightest smell of gas in the house or apartment, do not turn on the light or use an open fire - immediately ventilate the premises, close the gas tap, and call the service company.

Remember that it is easier to prevent a fire than to extinguish it! 

Creating a Fire Evacuation Plan

Evacuation plan template with a map

Another important part of safety precautions is knowing how to escape fire at a given location. 

While general strategic planning is fundamental to fire safety, every household should also have a custom fire evacuation scheme designed specifically for their home. This way, you can ensure that the actions of all family members will be synchronized in the event of an emergency.

Here is how to create a fire evacuation plan:

    • Take everyone into account. Your plan should cover the special needs of all members of the household, including children and elderly people. Ensure that everyone knows how to help each other.
    • Determine escape routes. Inspect every room of your house and find at least two ways out in each of them. It is vital for these escape routes to open easily and not be blocked by any objects. 
    • Create a map. Draw a scheme of your home and mark all exit routes alongside the locations of smoke detectors. You can use a template to do it.
    • Make a fire evacuation packing list. Pack valuables in a bag with a fire emergency kit. Place them somewhere along the evacuation route to make it easy to grab on the go.
    • Agree on a meeting spot. This should be a place in the front of your house, such as a sign or a mailbox, so that the emergency service workers can see you upon arrival.
    • Check the fire alarms. Ensure that smoke detectors are functioning properly and that there are enough of them in your house.
    • Revise and practice. Review the action steps with everyone who lives in the house, do some training, and organize a fire drill at least once a year.

With this fire evacuation checklist and a thought-through plan, you are sure to be ready even when there is not enough time to think things through.